Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The travelling Mr Bargrave

‘A stately artificiall River runns through the Toune: but at all these places were we forcd to pay Toll, for our Selves & horses: rating our horses heads at a greater price then our own:’ This is from the 17th century diary of Robert Bargrave, an English merchant who travelled and traded throughout the Levant and Mediterranean. He died in Smyrna en route to Constantinople, and his death was reported some 360 years ago today.

Bargrave was born in Kent, possibly at the family home, Eastry Court, Eastry, near Sandwich, in 1628, second son of the dean of Canterbury. He studied at Clare College, Cambridge, and Corpus Christi, Oxford. He seems to have been admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1640, at the unusually young age of twelve, along with his elder brother, but this may have been to take part in the inn’s dramatic entertainments, says the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). From 1647 until 1656, he worked as a merchant trading in the Levant and other Mediterranean locations. Much is known about this period in his life since he kept a detailed diary of four journeys: from England to Turkey 1647-1652; from Turkey to England 1652-1653; from England to Spain and Venice 1654-1656; from Venice to England 1656. Around 1653, he married Elizabeth Turner of Canterbury, and they had four children.

From early 1656 Bargrave was employed as personal secretary to Heneage Finch, earl of Winchilsea. When the earl was made ambassador to Constantinople, Bargrave went too, as the Levant Company’s secretary requiring him to serve as chancellor of the company’s factory and also to deputise for Winchilsea in his absence. On route to Turkey, in the Plymouth, Winchilsea’s party stopped at Lisbon, Algiers, and arrived at Smyrna in mid-December 1660. Bargrave fell ill, and was left behind when the Plymouth sailed for Constantinople on 7 January. According to the ODNB, his death was reported to Winchilsea on 9 February 1661 by the English consul at Smyrna, Richard Baker: ‘Your servant mr Bargrave is dead & buried at Santa Venáranda whither wee all accompanied him; his wife most disconsolate & to be admired for her love & care of him’.

Although brief extracts from Bargrave’s diary had been published in a variety of earlier scholarly works, the first fully annotated edition (with un-modernised language and spelling) was only published as recently as 1999, by the Hakluyt Society, edited by Michael G. Brennan: The Travel Diary of Robert Bargrave, Levant Merchant 1647-1656. The Society had, in fact, been preparing the work for publication in the 1940s, but the project lapsed. 

Again according to the ODNB: ‘Bargrave’s diary records his extensive experiences of commercial and diplomatic affairs, as well as his encounters with émigré royalists, and his relatives John Bargrave and John Raymond, who together compiled the invaluable guidebook published under the latter’s name as An Itinerary . . . Made through Italy (1648). Interspersed with these travel records are examples of Bargrave’s own poetry, including a masque with musical settings and dance steps, and his general observations as a tourist.’ Here are several extracts from Bargrave’s diary.

17 September 1652
‘Sep : 17: Leaving Thrace, we enterd into Bulgaria & rid to a village calld Dervènt=Cue: where we find the Inhabitants to be of the Grecian Relligion, & theyr Speech a confusd mixture of Turkish, Sclavonian & Greek:’ 

20 September 1652
‘Sept, the :20: we reachd (though with much difficulty) Yenèe Cue, a pretty small village seated beside a pleasant brooke: wherein we bathd our selves, and learnd our pediculous Companions to swimm: The Land hereabout is indeed very pleasing, resembling Parke - or Forrest - Grounds: at night by a Courteous Turkes Invitation, we repaird to his house; where he enterteind us with a Supper, & our horses with Hay, Gratis:’

21 September 1652
‘Sept, the :21 : we spent the first of the Day, in mending our Carts: the Vexation whereof is such, as I shall for ever putt them in my Letany, & give in Caution against them to all, whose Necessity may not force theyr using them; yet in the Afternoon (with Trouble enough) we travelld about fower howers, & pitchd at a most delicious Fountain on the way side.’

22 September 1652
‘September the :22: We sett out at break of Dawne; but having soon lost our way (& the Caravan too) in a Mist, we rid at range, till our hunger drove us in for a Bait at a Bulgares Cottage: hence we took our way to Carnabàtt; a handsom Toune, seated by a delicat Plaine, & washd with a pleasant River: neer which is as shady a large Grove of low Trees, as I have seen; so lovely, as if Nature had sett them for a Patterne of Plantation, to pose Art with: & here we found our Carravan; with whom we quartred, on the way side about an hower distant from Carnabatt –’

29 September 1652
‘September the :29:th we left Bulgaria, & entred a Country calld Dobrugia, which has lost its Christian name (unless it bee Silistria (as its chief City is still Called) And gotten this Turkish one; signyfying = Wellfare = from the great fruitfullness thereof: we rod about :12: howres to a Toune calld Bazargèe upon a délicat plaine & fertile Soile, scarse the :10:th part whereof is manur’d, through the paucity of Inhabitants; whose paines (though themselves are Turkes) are devourd by the Tiranny of theyr Governours. this Roud is very subject to Robberies; insomuch that in many places are to be seen Memoriall Pillars or heaps of Stones, over the bodies of Men there murdred & buryed.

30 September 1652
‘September the :30.th we went onn to a village calld Cavlaklèr;5 along the continued plaine, affording scarse a Tree & Stone within View: the Land clad with Grass wonderfully thick, having neither Men to manure it nor Cattle to eat a considerable part of it, although they have indeed great nombers of Bullocks & horses, scarse distinguishable from wild. The Inhabitants are so slothfull, that if they have sufficient for to Day & themselfs, they let Tomorrow & others take theyr Fortune: Water is bad & Searcy, & wine not to be had; because none but Turkes dwell in the Country: Wood they have none nor other burning then beasts Dung mixt with Straw, & dried; which would make bad Coals to broile Rashers on, if theyr Relligion would permitt them Bacon By the way we see a sort of Birds calld Тói (which I have neither mett nor heard of in Other parts) somewhat of the Shape & Colour of Turkies, but verie much greater: of which opportunity not letting us tast, we took it on Credit, that they be admirable meat: but could we have persuaded them to stand our Gunns, they had done a more opportune Favour; while even in a land of Plenty, we suffered very great want.’

17 February 1653
‘February the :17th: we came to Linghen; which with three other Tounes belong to the Prince of Orange; the Land extending about ten Legues in length, & two in breadth. Linghen was formerly a fortified Toune, but being taken by the Spanyards & retaken by the Hollanders, they demolishd the workes: & here termes Westfalia: -‘

21 February 1653
‘February the :21. we reachd to Emms Foort, a City well fortified, large handsom and cleane, having streight long Streets, delicatly pavd: but that which most contributed to our Prospect, was the stately even Rhoads to and from the City, curiously planted on each side with Abele=Trees, as also diverse other planted Walkes, leading out of the Rhode to Pleasant Villa’s, which are seated round about in land richly manurd, and chiefly with Tobacco, hence we advanc’d yet farther to Nearden, a Toune much larger then Emms Foort; the Streets broader, the buildings fairer, very uniforme, exceeding cleane: A stately artificiall River runns through the Toune: but at all these places were we forcd to pay Toll, for our Selves & horses: rating our horses heads at a greater price then our own:’

22 February 1653
February the :22d: - We went by water to Amsterdam, on an artificiall River, broad and deep, and cutt by a line about fower miles length from Nearden; the Rhoad goes along by the river, so that our boat was drawen by a Horse, as is the Custome through=out the low Countryes: The Land round=about us is every where bespotted with pretty Villaes and Guardens, so neatly contriv’d, & handsomely adornd, that together with the view of the City, of the Seae, & the litle Woods of Shipps neer it, they make up a most noble Prospect.’

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